9/23/2019 | 2 MINUTE READ

Robots in the Auto Industry

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When it comes to the deployment of robots, the auto industry is the hands-down leader. Or maybe that should be “gripper down”

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Mike Cicco FANUC America

Mike Cicco, president and CEO, FANUC America (Image: FANUC America)

According to the Robotic Industries Association, for the first half of 2019 the North American robotics market increased 7.2%. That translates into orders for 16,488 robots. And the price tag for them was some $869-million.

What is interesting—but not necessarily surprising to those who have even casually followed the robot industry—is that of the demand, the auto industry had a solid lead over other industries.

RIA robots

(Image: Robotic Industries Association)

In fact, auto has such a lead that the word “solid” is insufficient. That is, the growth in robot orders for automotive was at 83%. Following it are semiconductor and electronics at 12%, life sciences at 8%, and food and consumer goods at 3%.

Yes, the auto industry uses lots of robots.

And it has since “industrial robots” became a thing. You’d be hard pressed to go into any automotive body assembly area or paint shop and not be overwhelmed by the number of arms in action that are being digitally directed and servo-driven.

To get a clearer understanding of the robot industry and what it is doing in the automotive space, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we sit down with Mike Cicco, president and CEO, FANUC America Corp. FANUC is one of the leading robot companies in the world, so Cicco, who has been with the company since 1999, has some excellent insights into this automation technology.

One of the interesting—and important—points that Cicco makes is that robots are actually beneficial to workers in that they are generally deployed in applications that people just are not well suited to do. For example, in the cases of the aforementioned spot-welding guns or paint sprayers, in the first case those guns are rather heavy and having to manipulate one across a body panel when the line is running 60 jobs per hour—and making sure that there is consistent spacing—is beyond daunting. And in the case of the paint booth: respirators notwithstanding, that’s not an environment that people would like to be in for an eight-hour shift.

Cicco talks with Drew Winter, senior content director for WardsAuto.com, Mike Austin, digital content director at Hemmings Motor News, and me on this edition of the show.

The day before the show Cicco traveled back to Detroit from Hanover, Germany, where he had been attending the massive EMO machine tool trade show. Cicco says that much of the talk among attendees was about the transition that German auto companies like Volkswagen are making to electric vehicles. This, he explains, is of particular concern to those in the metalcutting industry because powertrain machining is a huge market and electric motors don’t have nearly the amount of metal removal required by an ICE. The good news for Cicco and his colleagues is that robots are well suited to the production of motors as well as the assembly of battery packs, which are highly complex.

And after Cicco leaves the set, Winter, Austin and I discuss a variety of subjects, including the UAW strike against General Motors, Amazon’s order of 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, the Trump Administration’s revoking of the California authority to regulate emissions based on the decades-old Clean Air Act, and a whole lot more.

All of which you can see right here.

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